Evolution and Betrayal - What is jealousy good for?

Why evolution wants betrayal

As difficult as admitting it to yourself might be, the first rule of betrayal is that our perception of someone else’s character was wrong. We did not predict their behavior correctly.

Because of my background in emotional intelligence, I see betrayal as a learning experience that’s pointing out my growth potential.

Jealousy can comprise a broad range of experiences, from an everyday feeling to a pathology that leads to crime and abuse.

Jealousy destroys the foundation of positive relationships. It is crucial to remember we do not build those sound foundations overnight - or in a two-day session in a random online game.

Why could evolution want that betrayals hurt?

Studies confirmed what you knew all along: Men and women are different in jealousy.

Is jealousy the most counterproductive emotion?

On the first look, jealousy must be one of the most counterproductive emotions of them all. Just think of all the relationships that break because one partner is overly jealous.

I haven’t experienced physical betrayal yet; but I experienced emotional betrayal just the other day. It hurts.

And just think of all the hours we spend crying about unrequited love, break-ups, and disloyal people. I can only imagine the pain someone must feel when someone cheats on them.

From the standpoint of evolution, jealousy seems to be even more counterintuitive, doesn’t it? More partners, more sex = more offspring = sped up evolution.

Why do we suffer when our partner is unfaithful?

The answer to this question is complex, and scientists are still researching the topic. We have a few theories on how jealousy serves evolution. What we know so far is that men and women are equally jealous, even though the triggers are different.

We must differentiate between suspicious and reactive jealousy as the latter is a normal human emotion.

A definition:

Reactive jealousy

We call it reactive jealousy when someone discovers an actual threat or danger to their relationship. That would, for instance, be the case if you catch your partner cheating. Reactive jealousy is always a response to a real, realistic danger. You see your partner misbehaving with your own eyes or have proof of their betrayal.

Suspicious jealousy

What we mean by suspicious jealousy is if someone is jealous even though their partner did not misbehave. For instance, your jealous partner feels you’re talking too long to someone, or a stranger has looked at you with an interest in their eyes.

We base suspicious jealousy on fear, painful experience, or, with abusive people, the knowledge that they are not excellent partners and any decent human being could pose a threat.

Suspicious jealousy is distrust.

Emotional betrayal vs physical betrayal

According to the research of renowned psychologist David M. Buss, the male brain reacts stronger to physical betrayal while the female brain fears emotional betrayal. If we look at our ancestors, that makes sense and led to the parental-investment model.

Men had to be sure that women are physically loyal so they don’t waste time and resources on other children than the men’s own.

Women didn’t need to worry about that, but they depended on their men regarding food, wood to keep the fire burning.

That is why women feel more threatened by emotional negligence while men respond stronger to the thread of physical betrayal.

Extremely jealous people might be triggered by everything and not fit the gender stereotype. One might wonder where their place in evolution is. So what I am saying is that we need to look at this as a model rather than black/white scenario.

We all know that people are not great at assessing themselves. When asked which event is scarier for them, physical or emotional betrayal, a certain amount of people might have responded based on inaccurate self-perception. That said, several follow-up studies came to the same result.

These ancient emotions are even present in couples who are too old to have kids or stayed childless. Even in online dating, ancient patterns are still valid.

Researchers concluded that men react more jealous when their partners might have cybersex and women react stronger to the threat that their partner could form an emotional connection to someone online.

Emotional connection and jealousy

Gender is not the only factor. In 2010, psychologists Kristen Kelly and Kenneth Levy researched the correlation between the depth of emotional connection and jealousy. Their study concluded that the patterns of connections are not genetically predetermined but formed by our first relationships and friendships.

Simplified, you can say that partners who emphasize sex or independence over love fear physical betrayal while the people who feel a deep emotional connection to their partners are more scared of emotional betrayal.

According to scientists, more men than women prefer casual relationships.As in all fields of evolutionary psychology, several factors play a part; may it be genetics, upbringing, or environment. Some signs show men are angrier when their spouse cheats, while women are more threatened by emotional betrayal.


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